- Azi Paybarah: Weiner falling in polls but still draws most attention; trying to leverage that
- He says Weiner slamming press, using media criticism to show he's ready to be NY mayor
- He says media criticism isn't over old details of sexting but new revelations Weiner kept doing it
- Paybarah: With primary looming, painting himself as independent may be his best shot
When the doors opened onto WABC's New York studios after the televised Democratic mayoral debate Tuesday night, reporters rushed in to surround two people. The first was Public Advocate Bill de Blasio -- in first place, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released earlier in the day.
But the larger crowd was surrounding Anthony Weiner, the former congressman who is polling in fourth place and who spent much of the night being ignored by his rivals.
Weiner may have turned his once-promising campaign into a disaster with the recent fresh crop of sexting revelations, but he has not ceased being the star of the campaign, much to his rivals' chagrin.
Weiner is now reaching for a silver lining from the scandal that has cost him dearly in the polls and sealed off whatever long-shot chances he had at victory. He's taking all the unflattering, pun-filled stories about him and saying "that's what it's like to be mayor." He's turning his unflattering press into evidence of his mettle. So, the more fights with the media, the more chances he has to say he's independent, he's fighting, he's ready for City Hall.
Last week, he mocked a British reporter's accent during an impromptu interview outside a public housing building where he was campaigning. Their exchange ended with him giving an unsolicited weather report to viewers in Britain. ("It's gonna be raining, cloudy and gray. So do what you can, guys," he said.)
While being mayor of New York is indeed akin to being in the eye of a media storm, what's happening to candidate Weiner is different.
He omitted a key detail in the redemption story that he brought to the race: Weiner continued sexting after resigning from Congress and tearfully telling the public how much pain it had caused his wife and those close to him. That is what is at the heart of the criticism. It's not the newness of the details but rather the newness of the facts.
But for a candidate who is less than a month away from the primary, there is little to do but continue. He has a reputation to salvage, issues to push and campaign money to spend. So, given the circumstances, the bad-news-is-proof-I'm-ready argument may be Weiner's only argument.
And so, in a live interview with BuzzFeed Editor Ben Smith on Monday, Weiner fielded questions about his sexting scandal and the role his wife may play in an expected Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, and he accused the New York Times of "never" liking him, because of his independence. (In 2008, after an unflattering story about his frequent staff changes, Weiner told me the Times had become "tabloidy.")
Hours before Tuesday's debate, Weiner's campaign released a video showing the candidate happily announcing that he doesn't care what the New York Post or Daily News say about him, because he's so independent from them.
When Weiner launched his campaign in late April, it was viewed largely as an effort to rehabilitate his image after his 2011 scandal and resignation from Congress. Nobody wants the last words on this career to be "sex scandal," "resignation" or "disgrace." But Weiner has lost ground since his scandal resurfaced; just last month, polls had him leading the Democratic field.
On Tuesday night, Weiner tried painting the rivals on stage with him as all coming from the same political establishment that has long governed New York.
About halfway through the debate, Weiner said, "My fellow New Yorkers, this is the problem," referring to his rivals, who had just been arguing with one another on stage. "You know they all come from basically the same place; they've been part of municipal government for decades now. They've all been part of it: a comptroller, a former comptroller, a public advocate, a speaker. They're from the same place."
He told viewers that if they wanted someone to "stop this noise," he was their candidate.
"Not for nothing," countered City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, "you were in government your whole career until you had to resign from government, so I'm not sure why you're finger-pointing at people in government."
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